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Welcome to episode 8 of Gaming With the Moms! Host and Pixelkin Managing Editor Nicole Tanner leads the conversation, this week with the beautiful and talented Matthew Johnston, a 20-year veteran of the video game industry and Audio Innovation Designer at Microsoft. Matthew is not a mom, but he’s a dad! (And his 8-year-old son apparently is very smart about a lot of things.) This week we cover the crucial question of whether there is a bubble forming in the smart toy market—and lots, lots more.

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News & Idle Gossip

Simone was right about Skylander Superchargers. She gloats about it, but only a little bit. We’re all pretty happy that there will indeed be vehicles!

Disney Toy Shoot Playmation gaming with the moms

Disney’s Playmation toys combine video game-like play with running around. There’s a fair amount of shooting involved, too.

Disney’s Playmation is the latest entry in the smart toy market—the place where video games meet toys. You can think of Playmation smart toys as wearable tech for kids.  Right now the play incorporates a lot of shooting-type play, but maybe future releases will have different stuff. Simone wants to be able to use her Playmation toys to cast magic spells. Matthew discusses the parental horror of noisy toys and more plastic toys kids tire of quickly. And these particular toys are $117! Most of these types of toys are pretty darned expensive.  If parents aren’t horrified by the prices, are they going to be horrified by the ear-splitting noises they tend to emit? Or will they be saying, as Matthew points out: “Wait, I just bought a stick with a chip in it and it’s just like that other stick without the chip in it!” And yet, people, especially little people, seem to be genetically programmed to collect things, especially things like plastic figurines. But again: expensive! Nicole makes her own prediction about upcoming Pokémon Amiibo. You’ll have to listen to hear it.

Gamestop has bought ThinkGeek, the online retailer of awesome geek-culture merch. We have issues with that. But we’re glad Hot Topic didn’t buy ThinkGeek. Matthew likes  Pink Gorilla, a Seattle instutition that’s really really cool. It’s a game store that’s local and real. Why couldn’t Pink Gorilla buy ThinkGeek?

Steam’s new refund policy is examined and declared to be a good thing overall. We just hope they modify it to be fairer to short-but-good games. (Right now you can get a refund if you play a game for less than 2 hours, but some great games are actually designed to last less than 2 hours.)

We talk about how the Supreme Court threw out the case (Elonis v. United States) of the guy who went on Facebook to threaten and harass his ex-wife. Online bullying is a big problem and we all agree something has to be done about it.  Internet threats are real, scary stuff and they need to be dealt with seriously.  Matthew’s mom told him to avoid bullies, but it’s hard to get away from bullies on the internet. We hope nothing really horrible happens before our system figures out how to enforce the law on Internet threats. The only good news about this case is that it’ll probably get re-tried because it was basically decided on a technicality involving faulty jury instructions.

Matthew’s Anecdotes & the 4th & Battery Project

Matthew worked at PopCap back in the day—before mobile games became a thing. Suddenly he found himself working on the legendary, iconic, and awesome game Bejeweled.  He rode up on the rocket to the stars that was the mobile game market. One time, Matthew almost got all of his blood accidentally drained by a phlebotomist distracted by her devotion to Bejeweled.  Matthew helped create a program at PopCap called 4th & Battery, which was part imprint label and part organizational development program. It was a way to get folks who were perhaps getting a little burned out by game dev’s demands to renew their creativity. It’s a program that’s been emulated now by other companies. Matthew told the story of the heroic developers of Candy Train. And the amazing collaboration with the Make a Wish Foundation that resulted in a kid named Owain Weinert designing a very cool game, Allied Star police.  Matthew pointed out that we don’t talk enough about how you make your company culture healthy. “What we proved with 4th & Battery is if you invest in your culture…everything else will come along with it,” Matthew said.

4th & Battery Unpleasant Horse gaming with the moms

Another 4th & Battery game, Unpleasant Horse.

What We Played

  • Matthew: Nintendo 3DS games with the Streetpass feature. Matthew LOVES to exchange information with people. He loves opening his Streetpass and saying, “Oh, there’s people in there!” He loves “pointless games that give me hats.”
  • Simone played the “cat game that gives you things” (Neko Atsume) and Peggle.
  • Nicole played more than Hearthstone. She played some Dragon Age: Inquisition.  She likes the way that game shows all the quests and whether you’ve done them or not.  She also played and finished Device 6, a sort of point and click adventure, sort of interactive novel with very fun puzzles.
  • Linda bought an iPad and downloaded Revolution 60, an adventure role-playing game with all female characters and a really fun combat system.

Q & A

Chuck V. asked: What are some games like Counting Kingdom we can recommend to help people learn language, music, etc.?

Nicole recommends Ever, Jane, role-playing game in which you cooperatively act out Jane Austen-like scripts.

Matthew talks about the music games. There’s a new Rock Band AND a new Guitar Hero coming out. These games actually do teach you a lot of aspects of how to play music.

Simone did a post on rhythm games. And we have a video on Crypt of the Necrodancer, which is a very cool rhythm game.

When it comes to language, Simone likes Duolingo. And the Endless apps people have come out with Endless Spanish for preschoolers. Matthew points out that you can change the language setting on a lot of games and kind of absorb languages that way.  Captioning systems let you get English subtitles that help you learn, too. Simone says Learn Korean in a Month is a good game.

Other Business

Gaming With the Moms was recorded in the studios of the Jack Straw Cultural Center in Seattle. Music by Pat Goodwin at Novelty Shop Creative. Nicole Tanner, Linda Breneman, Simone de Rochefort, and Matthew Lee Johnston participated in this podcast. Thanks for listening! And if you like this podcast, please consider rating us on iTunes! And subscribing! It really helps us out!

If you have questions or comments PLEASE send them to  We’ll answer your questions in the podcast!


This article was written by

Linda learned to play video games as a way to connect with her teenaged kids, and then she learned to love video games for their own sake. At Pixelkin she wrangles the business & management side of things, writes posts as often as she can, reaches out on the social media, and does the occasional panel or talk. She lives in Seattle, where she writes, studies, plays video games, spends time with her family, consumes vast quantities of science fiction, and looks after her small cockapoo. She loves to hear from people out there. You can read more about her at her website, Linda or her family foundation's website,